An 18-year-old driver trying to speed past his older brother's car in Melville early Saturday lost control of the vehicle and crashed, killing himself and his passenger, a 17-year-old girl, Suffolk County police said.
The dead were Ray Vega, a three-year track-and-field athlete who graduated Monday from Huntington High School, and Carmen Rivera-Gotay, a rising senior at the school, described by family members as an avid violinist and aspiring psychologist.
"Words will provide little solace following such an unthinkable loss, but I ask that you keep the families of both of these young people in your minds and hearts," Huntington schools Superintendent Jim Polansky said in a statement, adding that grief counseling would be offered at the school Monday.
Vega and Rivera-Gotay, both of Huntington Station, were among four close friends, including Vega's older brother, Kevin, 19, who were on their way home after a late-night snack at a Taco Bell on Route 110, police said. Earlier, Rivera-Gotay's family said, the friends had spent the evening at Dave & Buster's restaurant-arcade in Farmingdale.
The force of the 1:15 a.m. crash shattered the vehicle into pieces, sheared the bark off a tree and toppled a speed-limit sign, police said.
Only after Kevin Vega's passenger, Isaias Perez, 21, glanced in a sideview mirror and saw the devastation behind them did they realize what had happened, police said.
Vega struggled to resuscitate his brother, who was declared dead at the scene, on Walt Whitman Road. He could not reach Rivera-Gotay, trapped in the wreckage.
Det. Sgt. John O'Sullivan said Kevin Vega was "inconsolable" at the scene. "Absolutely horrified. Distraught. He can't imagine what happened."
Jordan Lefranc, 18, of Farmingdale, said he came upon the crash scene while returning home from a graduation party. He and his friends tried to help but could do nothing because of the extent of the damage. "It was horrifying to see," he said.
Both cars were headed north when the younger Vega, driving his father's 1996 Honda Accord, sought to maneuver around a 1999 Pontiac Grand Am driven by the older brother, who had slowed as he crossed the intersection with Park Drive, police said.
Passing on the right "at a high rate of speed" in the 30-mph zone, the Honda's driver side clipped the Pontiac's passenger side, police said.
Ray Vega lost control, struck a curb and careened into a tree near 1800 Walt Whitman Rd., about 500 feet north of the intersection, police said. The road has only one lane in each direction at that point.
The Honda was apparently in the Pontiac's blind spot, and the sideswipe was so slight that Kevin Vega did not notice the impact, police said.
But Perez saw the aftermath and told Kevin, who made a U-turn and rushed to help. "As they pull up, they see the wreckage," said O'Sullivan, a supervisor of the Huntington-based Second Squad detectives who investigated the crash.
Police said Rivera-Gotay still had a pulse when they reached her, and rescuers using heavy equipment freed the girl. She was declared dead at Plainview Hospital at 2:55 a.m., O'Sullivan said.
O'Sullivan said authorities do not expect to file criminal charges, and there were no signs of alcohol or drug use.
Rivera-Gotay's mother, Carolyn Gotay, and older sister, Amber Rivera-Gotay, 19, mourned the young woman Saturday, recalling how she was saving for college by working at the King Kullen supermarket in Halesite.
Carmen was described as a talented artist -- and her mother's closest confidant.
"She was my rock," Carolyn Gotay said. "Whenever I was down or depressed, she helped lift me out of it."
Gotay said she last saw her daughter Friday afternoon. They hugged and said goodbye before the young woman went out with friends.
Amber said they'd hung out last week, watching videos and laughing together. Amber painted her sister's nails.
After losing the sister with whom she shared a room her entire life, Amber said, "It's going to be hard," and began weeping.
Sometimes, she said through tears, "We fought like every sister does, but we all loved her. I loved her."
At the King Kullen on New York Avenue, where Rivera-Gotay worked as a bookkeeper, co-workers were red-eyed in sadness. They said she'd worked there since October, along with Kevin Vega.
"She was just really bubbly and really great to be around. I'm going to miss her a lot," said Nick Latham, 23, of Huntington Bay.
Colleagues said she was a responsible young woman. "She was a big personality here," Latham said.
Huntington High track coach Ron Wilson said Ray Vega threw discus and shot put on the team.
"He was just a kid that enjoyed competing and having fun," Wilson said. "He just loved being out there."
The tragedy was "devastating," Wilson said.
Saturday night, memorial signs and flowers at the tree struck by the Honda paid tribute to "Ray Jay" and "Carmen."
The Vega family said they were too distraught to talk. Perez's father said he had been unable to find his son, whose mother owned the car Kevin Vega was driving, since the crash.
With Laura Albanese,
Robert Brodsky, Scott Eidler, Candice Norwood and Candice Ruud